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reGENs, a proposal to apply an integrated model of operational urbanism in the regeneration of an industrial city

02 of August '22

Article fromA&B 06 | 2022 issue

Let's take a look at the Lodz city center regeneration project, which is perhaps the answer to the challenges posed by the second phase of Lodz's urban regeneration. The solution, although it has a local context, may also be applicable to other cities.

background of lodz's regeneration

The Lodz City Center Area Revitalization Program is a unique project on a national and European scale. This uniqueness lies in its integrated approach to the problem, which is the crisis of the industrial city center. The revitalization project consists of construction investments and social programs. It was preceded by careful analyses performed by several local administration departments and public consultations. On the basis of these, an interdisciplinary team drew up documentation covering, among other things, tenements, parks, roads, squares, pocket parks ("hard revitalization") and elements of social programs - projects include sheltered housing, community centers, social welfare homes, libraries ("soft revitalization").

ulica Włókiennicza przed rewitalizacją (2016 rok)

Textile Street before revitalization (2016)

© Jakub Krzysztofik

Basic project data:
Scope: The 8 priority areas covered by the project have an area of 164 hectares
Number of residents covered: 17,000
Time frame: project 2016-2017; implementation 2018-2023
Budget: PLN 1,100,000

The project schedule shows that Lodz's revitalization has already passed the halfway point, the effects can be seen in the city center: renovated streets, revitalized parks and rebuilt tenement houses and post-factory buildings. At this stage, it is mostly "hard revitalization," that is, that which is related to renovations. Settlement of apartments and social and commercial premises is just beginning. We will still have to wait for the real results of the regeneration of the city center in social terms, and especially in the perception of residents. However, it is worth considering today whether the city's regeneration will be successful. Ask ourselves whether the process is being properly implemented, whether we have lost sight of the real goals, whether we should change something at this stage? Has the project programmed ten years ago lost its relevance and does it no longer require evaluation? It is worth taking a look at the unique process of regeneration of Lodz's inner city and asking ourselves questions that may lead us to recognize where we are in the process. This is an excellent simulacrum for observers from other cities, but especially for us, the citizens of Lodz. However, there is no denying that Lodz's area revitalization, having passed the halfway point, requires a discussion of remedies that can give it a new dimension: reGENERATION 2.0. So what is the recipe for a well-functioning, sustainable industrial city? How should we define urban regeneration? What next step should Łódź take? What can reGENeration 2.0 be? Before I answer, I will present three mistakes made by the Łódź local government, often seen in other cities as well.

ulica Włókiennicza po rewitalizacji (2022 rok)

Włókiennicza Street after revitalization (2022)

© Jakub Krzysztofik

diagnosis: three mistakes we make when planning the future of our cities

#1 one-step and short-sighted planning calculated for immediate effect

A well-functioning city responding to modern challenges is the goal of many of us, but the realization of this postulate is sometimes dominated by projects that are to be carried out within a single term of office and should ensure quick results and voter support. These flagship projects do not always respond to the city's priority needs and often do not take into account all the costs of their implementation, ignoring in particular the costs of many years of operation and renovation. They also do not very accurately indicate the effects of proposed changes: "let's build the WZ route, which will solve all our traffic problems", "let's build the Orientarium, it will be an attraction on a regional scale". The pattern of project implementation is most often to prepare a project and get financing, and then to implement and wait for the success of the project. Unfortunately, a number of very important factors are usually forgotten, such as a time reserve, a realistic financial forecast that takes into account not only changes in the economy during the investment, but also the carefully calculated effect of the investment, including the cost of maintaining the facilities after their completion, and, above all, the evaluation and correction of the project during its duration. No funds are provided for these elements, and failure to implement them can have very serious consequences. With the high complexity of investment processes, the compilation of additional costs and deadlines simply has to occur, and shifting responsibility for them to contractors is short-sighted on many levels. The revitalization of a city like Łódź, and in a broader sense the regeneration of an industrial city, is a permanent process, never ending. The course of this process should be constantly monitored and corrected, and a special team should watch over it.

Postulate 1: Management of public investments must include maximum care in their planning, implementation and supervision based on a special model developed for local government investments. It is necessary to reject simple, one-step solutions in favor of integrated management processes with proper and flexible evaluation and appropriate provisions within the project. In addition, the operational processes of change should be planned over several decades, with milestones (stages) of several years in their implementation.

 projekt rewitalizacji obszarowej nadzorowało pięć różnych wydziałów łódzkiego magistratu

The area revitalization project was overseen by five different departments of the Łódź City Hall

© Jakub Krzysztofik

#2 People - the most valuable element of territorial capital

People: residents, civil servants, those managing the city, and above all, mid-level employees who directly oversee the implementation of city investments. The basic mistake in this area is the wrong personnel policy. Difficultly created and completed teams of officials who prepare projects fall apart in the course of implementation, and competent people, discouraged, burned out and poorly paid, leave for the private sector and are replaced by random employees with little experience. This is the result of austerity in the remuneration of key employees, a huge mismanagement of local governments, which translates into mistakes and therefore losses in public finances. Proper management of the common good will always conflict with the interests of the free market. The right way is to build separate and carefully prepared personnel policies implemented through transparent procedures, while properly compensating operational officials. It is precisely with a salary policy that local governments have a huge unused range of non-salary measures: studies to supplement education, training, domestic and foreign internships, study tours, subsidized recreation, a fair bonus system, but also preferences in the allocation of housing from the municipal stock. These measures can be successfully applied as long as the procedures are fully transparent and the contract provides for long-term work of specialists in the local government structures.

Postulate 2: The stereotype of the perception of civil servants should be changed by changing the standards of personnel policy, the way they are paid and improving their competence, provided that the procedures are fully transparent. Properly built and sustainable cadres are an essential element for the implementation of long-term local government strategies and appropriate professional dialogue with the public. An additional goal should be the self-esteem of officials in carrying out the mission of the magistrate (integrated urban policy).

 skwer Barbary Napiórkowskiej - programowanie inwestycji

Barbara Napiórkowska square - investment programming

© Jakub Krzysztofik

#3 We do not distinguish between myth and reality when programming a vision for change in the city and dialogue with the public

The third problem is the inadequate definition of strategic urban policy goals. In Lodz, the local government has allocated about PLN 500 million for area revitalization (the rest comes from EU funding), and about PLN 250 million for the construction of the Orientarium. The proportions between these figures are puzzling to say the least. It seems necessary to correct the proportions in financing the priority of revitalizing downtown Lodz and other needs, such as amusement parks, swimming pools and stadiums. It would be a mistake to negate the need to expand the zoo or other such projects, but it's all about balance in prioritization. It is the proportions that are the key to success, not the rejection of one path.

Postulate 3: Working on a vision for our cities should lead to the verification of investment myths.

pasaż Majewskiego przed rewitalizacją (2016)

Majewski Passage before revitalization (2016)

© Jakub Krzysztofik

Defining the goals of regeneration - a vision for the regeneration of the city

The overarching goal of the city's regeneration is to create a social territorial capital operating in an integrated network system, taking into account local conditions and experiences. In turn, the accompanying goals read:
1. all processes in the city should be monitored and evaluated in a continuous system, based on continuously updated digital databases. Such an approach will increase the resilience of cities to rapid changes.
2) Operational urban planning should have urban policy tools to respond quickly to undesirable spatial and social processes (dilation reduction).
3. Moving away from mono-functional industrial, service (office, retail), residential areas to mixed-use areas as a recipe for increasing resilience to crises and creating sustainable territorial capital.
4. planning for diversified financial, time and personnel reserves to address crises (territorial capital of cities).

Włókiennicza Bis passage before and after redevelopment (2016 and 2022)

© Jakub Krzysztofik

In this way, the city will achieve deep-seated resilience (resilience), and in a broader sense, it will become a "deep city" (a concept proposed by the author), which is resilient to superficial political or social changes grumbling at it, but at the same time is able to react quickly to negative processes that may threaten the foundations of its functioning. Traditional urban planning, which does not follow change, should be complemented by operational urban planning based on territorial capital, consisting of sustainable civil servants. At the same time, the capital must be formed by financial instruments based on the city's long-term budget policy with special attention to the financial reserve. Urban policy structured in this way is capable of meeting challenges. A diverse city fabric, both material and social, is much more resilient to climate change, rising energy prices, migration. A mixed-use city with residents of varying wealth status (excluding enclaves of poverty and wealth), seeking to shorten the supply chain and reduce daily commutes is more resilient to crises.

The challenge for local governments is to efficiently carry out operational urban planning focused on achieving major urban policy goals. Key to a city's resilience is the proper identification of priorities and their constant evaluation. This will allow rapid response, important especially in four areas: a diverse range of jobs close to home - reindustrialization of city centers; a green, healthy city center - "green by a step"; a complementary and rich offer of social services of the city building a conscious social identity - a city of five, fifteen, thirty minutes; a balanced social mix of residence in the city center.

reGENs - an outline of the operational action concept

The concept of reGENs is inspired by the vocabulary core contained in the word "regeneration." In biology, genetic dysfunction involving disruption of genes in the DNA structure results in malfunction of the entire organism. The parallel is to transfer this principle to the "DNA of the city." The concept of reGENs is the author's vision based on years of experience in the field of urban revitalization transformations. Observations show that negative processes start with small disorders in the functioning of the city, the long-term ignoring of which creates threats on other scales and levels, similar to the domino effect. I propose the establishment of "reGENs" - interdisciplinary intervention teams of several people, whose work would be aimed at defining, diagnosing and proposing solutions to problems (disruptions to the city's DNA). These teams should consist of people of different professions, of different ages, who share a common goal - to solve a specific problem. The group's activities are coordinated by a trained "mobile" official responsible for organizing the group's work and achieving the goal for which the team was established. Completion of the work is crowned by a report with recommendations to the local administration units, estate council, housing cooperative. As such teams operate, thanks to the flow of practical knowledge between specialists working within the same team, their effectiveness should increase. Constant evaluation (and its financing) of the process in the face of changing internal and external conditions is required. It is necessary that they be archived and analyzed by a central urban think-tank (supported by local universities and private industry-related research centers).

ulica Wschodnia po rewitalizacji (2021 rok)

East Street after revitalization (2021)

© Jakub Krzysztofik

Example: there is an investment-blocked plot of land in the downtown, its current state reduces the quality of the space and negatively affects the image of this part of the city. The team: an urban architect, a real estate specialist, an engineer specializing in infrastructure and an official secretary of the team. Example of problem diagnosis: the owner of the plot is elderly or abroad, a pipeline runs through the plot. The team tries to solve the problem with the owner of the plot and, for example, helps put it up for sale with documentation and indication of technical and formal conditions for the removal of the investment barrier. The new buyer of the plot is immediately supported in reducing the investment risk, and the previous owner receives a more favorable price. The operation of reGEN teams can be divided into teams specialized in defining and identifying problems and operational teams responsible for solving them. The experimental nature of reGENs should lead to procedures that allow officials to implement the good practices developed in a much broader area of cases.

The scope of reGEN activities in the four priority problem areas forms the Quadrant for city reGENeration:
1. reindustrialization (industry-labor-planning-investment mix).
2. greening (health-ecology-water).
3. Social services (transportation-education-culture).
4. Housing (housing policy, housing mix).
"Quadrant 5", i.e. an additional fifth element (survey-evaluation-diagnosis-implementation) integrating the other areas ensuring the efficiency and proficiency of the measures taken and the added value of the operational process created.

Kwadrat reGENeracji

The square of reGENs

© Jakub Krzysztofik

summary: regeneration as a continuous process

The regeneration of the city is a continuous multi-layered process, requiring all of us to put in place efficient operational measures, ones that will ensure a quick response to the next challenges. One such solution is the work of interdisciplinary teams within reGENs, ensuring not only rapid point responses, but also supporting the implementation of the main goals of urban policy and guaranteeing the monitoring of the evaluation of the processes taking place. Urban regeneration requires action at several scales, one of which is point-based action as part of the work of reGENs, but it is continuous, using a sustainable core of civil servants and using active interdisciplinary teams.

 ulica Wschodnia po rewitalizacji (2021 rok)

East Street after revitalization (2021)

© Jakub Krzysztofik


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